Yesterday’s National Post contained an interesting story regarding government programs around the world targeted at employers of military reservists. In an effort to support troops overseas legislators in the U.K. and Australia have enhanced job protection laws while simultaneously creating compensation programs that pay employers of reservists a stipend to help offset the loss of an employee during his or her tour of duty.
Here in Canada, federal laws protect the jobs of deployed reservists while recent amendments to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act explicitly permit unpaid leaves of absence for reservists deploying overseas. The C.D. Howe Institute is recommending Canada go one step further and adopt a plan that would provide employers with grants of up to 80% of their employees’ salaries to a maximum of $47,200 per employee for as long as 16 months while that employee is training, deployed, and recovering upon return.
As a small firm (six lawyers) with one of our associates currently serving his reserve duty in Afghanistan I can’t speak strongly enough in favour of such a proposal. The sacrifice and commitment exhibited by our associate, Jason Morische, is undisputed. What is sometimes forgotten is the sacrifice made by an employer — particularly a small business which describes many law firms — when a key employee deploys overseas.
In our firm, Jason’s deployment has necessitated a significant shuffling of briefs to spread his active files across the other lawyers in the firm while managing the loss of revenue that comes with his extended absence. Overhead costs tied to a temporarily absent employee (such as office rent, secretarial support, and phone lines) continue to be charged and the employer cannot easily mitigate these in light of the anticipated return of the employee. Moreover, a reservist’s leave of absence is considerably different than an employee who departs for other reasons such as a maternity leave. Speaking again from Jason’s example, over the course of the six months preceding his departure, the military provided us with at least three different start dates for his deployment. Similarly, Jason’s original return date has been changed a number of times and we still lack any certainty as to when the actual end of his tour will be. Obviously, one can’t expect precise scheduling for an overseas combat tour, but compensation for the havoc this wreaks on the jobs reservists leave behind would be welcome relief to those of us who ‘support our troops’ in a most meaningful and important way.